The birth parents of children in residential care homes must be told when their child falls ill during the Coronavirus outbreak, and must also be consulted about how they should be looked after, a House of Commons briefing paper has confirmed.
The paper, which has been published by the House of Commons library, offers answers to frequently asked questions about child contact in relation to both private (divorce) and public family law (child protection) orders.
The document goes on to explain that managers of residential care settings should speak to parents and carers about their views on whether the child should return home if he or she needs to self isolate. This is what the paper says:
Managers of residential settings should speak to parents and carers to establish views on whether the child or young person should return home for any period of self-isolation (due to them, or someone else in the same setting, displaying symptoms) or should remain at their setting. They should do this pre-emptively, rather than waiting until someone shows symptoms. Where possible, the risk assessment should also include consideration of the impact on the pupil or student from the disruption of their usual staff relationships and routines.”
The briefing paper also offers information on active legislation and policy that must be followed by councils with regards to contact.
A section entitled “Can I visit my child in care/residential home (England)?” explains:
“Under section 34 of the Children Act 1989, where a child is in local authority care, the local authority must allow “reasonable contact” between a child and their parents, guardian, any person with parental responsibility or a named person who had previous care of the child. However, this can be halted for seven days if the local authority believes it necessary to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare; the refusal is decided upon as a matter of urgency.
UK Government guidance for local authorities on children’s social care states that the Government “recognise[s] that the challenging context means that local authorities and partners will struggle to meet the full range of statutory duties relating to child protection, safeguarding and care at present”.
The guidance states that the Government expects contact between children in care and their relatives to continue and for the spirit of contact orders to be met:
We expect that contact between children in care and their birth relatives will continue.
It is essential for children and families to remain in touch at this difficult time, and for some children, the consequences of not seeing relatives would be traumatising. Contact arrangements should therefore be assessed on a case by case basis taking into account a range of factors including the government’s social distancing guidance and the needs of the child.
It may not be possible, or appropriate, for the usual face-to-face contact to happen at this time and keeping in touch will, for the most part, need to take place virtually. We expect the spirit of any contact orders made in relation to children in care to be maintained and will look to social workers to determine how best to support those valuable family interactions based on the circumstances of each case.
It states there must be suitable facilities within a children’s home for any child accommodated there to meet persons including parents, friends, relatives and their assigned social worker, or, where this is not possible, for communication over the telephone, video-link or other electronic communication method.
The paper also has a section entitled, “My child contact centre is closed: What alternatives are being made (UK)?”
Crucially, this section confirms that some contact centres have remained open.
The section says:
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Child Contact Centres are run by a variety of independent organisations that form the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC). They deal with:
• private law cases, where there is an agreement or court order made for supervised contact, and
• public law cases, where a child is in the care of the local authority and a contact order has been made with respect to the child for supervised contact.
The NACCC is maintaining a webpage on Covid-19. The guidance from them is that people should not be attending Child Contact Centres.
Some Centres are exploring ways to ensure child contact can continue to take place:
1. Centres are working creatively with families to see if there are other
people that might be able to take up the role of the contact centre. This works
well where there are family members or other trusted people that can step in,
to support. The government has detailed that children can travel to see parents
and the judiciary are urging parents to work together in making decisions for
children where this is safe and appropriate.
2. Indirect Contact is being achieved using technology like Skype, WhatsApp
video calling, Face Time and so on. Some centres are finding ways to support
this so that similar arrangements can be implemented in line with the services
usually being offered.
3. Other centres are reducing service sizes and availability. This means
that whilst the centre may have suspended contact, it might be possible for them to offer handovers for those parents who just cannot organise this without the centre.
The NACCC states that impacted members of the public should contact NACCC directly or a local contact centre to find out what services are available. Contact details for local centres may be found here: https://naccc.org.uk/find-a-centre.
In Northern Ireland, the Lord Chief Justice’s Office has said parties should contact their legal respective as all Contact Centres have been closed. In Scotland, parties should contact their local Contact Centre.